Why isn’t white hydrogen from the air collected for fuel?January 3, 2023
Since H2 is the most common element, many wonder why it isn’t sourced naturally from the air.
White hydrogen is the name given to H2 that occurs naturally in the air and is also referred to as natural hydrogen. Since it is the most abundant element in the Universe, it seems logical that we should simply be able to capture it from the atmosphere to use it as a carbon-free fuel. That said, it isn’t as easy as it sounds.
As a result, very little white hydrogen occurs in the air around us, meaning that it is not simply waiting to be captured and used as a clean fuel source. The majority of white hydrogen isn’t available in the atmosphere as much as it is found in difficult – or impossible or unfeasible – locations.
White hydrogen is just as efficient and carbon-free as other forms of H2 but obtaining it can be an energy-intensive process.
To extract it, heavy machinery and fossil fuels must be used, which would ultimately contradict the goal of obtaining this form of hydrogen in the first place. Sources for natural H2 include serpentinization – a reaction between ultra-basic rocks and water; degassing from within the Earth’s crust and mantle; weathering, when water meets freshly exposed rock surfaces; contact between water and reducing agents held within the Earth’s mantle; decomposition of organic matter; hydroxyl ion decomposition found in mineral structures; natural water radiolysis; and biological activity.
It is for this reason that the global effort to use H2 as a zero-carbon emission source of fuel are focused on sourcing it in different ways, nearly none of which involve drawing it out of the air.
That said, just because most research is focused on methods other than pulling H2 from the atmosphere, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t being researched at all. In fact, scientists recently published a paper in the Nature Communications journal in which they described a process that can now produce H2 out of the humidity in the air.
This isn’t exactly white hydrogen, as it isn’t free-floating, but it is likely as close as we’ll come.
The method described by the scientists from the University of Melbourne’s Department of Chemical Engineering involve using the humidity from the air in an electrolyzer powered by renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. This concept is meant to help to bring green H2 to remote regions that are traditionally low in liquid water, pulling the H2O straight out of the air.
Our @engunimelb researchers have developed a way to generate hydrogen from air instead of the conventional method using fresh water. It could lead to a better way to store renewable power which doesn’t deplete scarce water resources.
— University of Melbourne (@UniMelb) September 7, 2022
In conclusion, the authors of this paper have demonstrated that their method is successful in electrolyzing the water in the air’s humidity, even when it is as low as 4 percent. This breakthrough technology has the potential to provide new forms of sustainable energy sources for many dry and arid regions around the world.
More about natural hydrogen…